Volume 5, Issue 36 September 6, 2012
Why your doctor won’t treat you
for this vitamin deficiency
Are you feeling weak and tired compared to the way you used to feel? Is your memory starting to slip? Is your balance off? Are you dizzy or depressed? A lot of folks over 60 suffer from one or more of these symptoms. Some doctors will tell you, “You’re just getting old.” While that may be true, it doesn’t mean you have to be unhealthy. There is a biological reason for the symptoms – and a simple treatment.

Unfortunately, the reason may not convince your doctor of your diagnosis. Here’s why: If you look up these symptoms, you’ll find that your problem may be a deficiency of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is often deficient in people over 60. That’s because the enzyme systems that absorb B12 from your food often no longer work as you get older. So you go to your doctor and ask to have your B12 levels checked. And this is what your doctor ends up telling you.

“I am really surprised. Your symptoms sound just like a B12 deficiency, and you certainly are the right age to have one. But your blood levels are normal. It must be something else.” And off you and your doctor go looking for other causes when the truth is that all along you were both right. It was the lab test that was wrong.

This is one of the things that bugs me most about modern medicine. It relies way too much on lab tests. In fact, if your doctor can’t confirm a diagnosis by a test, then all too often that diagnosis is deemed wrong. The one who suffers is the patient. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine underlines just how bad this problem is.

Researchers at the New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY found 23 patients who had clear symptoms of B12 deficiency. Then they sent a blood sample from each patient to three separate labs to have the B12 levels determined. What they found shows you just how inaccurate tests can be. The first lab missed the diagnosis in 26% of the patients. The second one missed it in 22%. And the third one missed it in 35% of the cases. Consider how amazing this is.

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It is very possible that doctors have completely misdiagnosed up to one-third of the patients out there suffering from B12 deficiency. They are doomed to be miserable for the rest of their lives simply because their doctors relied solely on blood tests instead of using their clinical skills.

So if blood tests are often inaccurate, what should doctors do? That’s easy. Just ignore the tests and follow their clinical judgment. And in the case of B12 that is particularly easy.

When a patient comes to me with symptoms suggestive of B12 deficiency I don’t even bother to check the blood level. Instead I just give them a B12 shot twice a week for four weeks.

I give it to them as an injection because I don’t have to worry about them properly digesting a pill. And also because a shot will produce high tissue levels very quickly. If the patient’s symptoms go away, “Bingo,” there’s my diagnosis. If they don’t, then I can start looking elsewhere. With this method, I never ever have to worry that I missed that critical diagnosis.

So if you have the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, don’t pay for the test. Just tell your doctor to give you the shot and see how it works!

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

Carmel R, Agrawal YP "Failures of cobalamin assays in pernicious anemia" N Engl J Med, 2012; 367(4): 385-386.

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